This is the second in a series of blogs that I am doing about parenting. If you missed Phase 1, no prob. Just scroll back a few blogs or go to October 7 on the blog calendar. A reminder: I am a parent by experience only. I am household savvy but hasten to acknowledge that I have had no formal parental training. That said, any advice I may offer is based on wounds sustained in battle.
Now true, Phase 2 is a long period of time and it is possible to break it down into several sub-stages, but when it comes to raising children you want as little detail as possible. The more you know and greater your preparation, the more you will go nuts. Beware also: Phase 2 is very stressful on your marriage. This is the time when mothers and fathers, especially if they both work away from the home, have to gather up maximum stamina and wits to survive. I mentioned in a previous blog that my wife and I had a safeguard against the possible failure of our marriage during Phase 2. You might consider it worth thinking about. We had the foresight early on to make a solemn pact with each other: whosoever even mentioned the “D” word would automatically get full custody of the children should the spit occur. This kept our marriage rock solid from the git-go.
Toddlerhood is over as your child discovers the concept of “no.” Up until this time, parents have controlled “no” and the child is accustomed to it. There’s “NO, don’t touch the machete,” or “NO, don’t play with the neighbor’s cute little pit bull with the vice-like jaws,” or “NO, do not drink that bottle of Liquid Plumber; it will drain you…literally!” In Phase 2, the Concept of No is reversed. It is now the child who is expressing the negative: “NO mommy, don’t tell me to stop peeing out the upstairs window; it’s fun watching people below wondering what it is,” or “NO daddy, I needed your saw because the chair was too high for me to climb into,” and the ever-popular “NO! And you can‘t make me.”
School, meanwhile, offers some relief because it gets the kid out of the house for a good number of hours. The first day of school can be traumatic, for the mother especially. It’s the proverbial severing of the tether, the official letting-go that temporarily transfers control of the child from parent to teacher. Personally, I’m all in favor of this. On my first day of school I didn’t feel so good. My mother though it was simply a touch of anxiety about going to school for the first time…though I’m not sure anxiety was even a diagnosis for a six-year-old back in 1951. I had a bad stomach ache and that’s all there was to it. Mom thought I was probably faking it. I convinced her, eventually, that I wasn’t. I never made it to my first day of school. I was detoured to the hospital where my just-about-ruptured appendix was removed. My mother bought me a book titled “Eloise.”
As the child progresses through the initial grades of elementary school you begin to get a feel for how well this individual is going to perform in life. There are telltale signs—mostly warning signals—that will disrupt any plans you may have had for raising successful, normally adjusted children. You will no doubt think to yourself, “But I was supposed to get the perfect children. What happened to my poor little Buffy and Bradley for whom I had such high expectations?” Well, expectations are not yours to have—they belong to others, like the principal of your kid’s school who expects you to show up the next morning so that your child’s teacher might ‘splain why your kid is a royal pain in the ass. So okay, those are not the exact words the teacher used, but you can tell that is what she was feeling.
Of course, school offers a whole new environment ripe with opportunities for your child. New friendships develop. Friends smoke pot together in the girl’s bathroom. Friends write farewell notes to their loved ones and then withdraw money from an ATM and take a Greyhound bus from Miami to Los Angeles. Other children are less adventurous but more entrepreneurial. My son left for school each day with his prized Star Wars pillow case. This he used to fill with individual pieces of candy which he purchased each morning from the wholesale candy distributer on the way to school. He then sold his daily inventory—at a substantial profit– to the other children during lunch and recess. The principal praised his salesmanship and business acumen but told us, as he reached over and handed me the Star Wars pillow case, “Somehow it’s just not right. Your son could get mugged and we wouldn’t want that to happen.”
If you are working parents there is always the decision to be made as to when you can trust your children to take care of themselves during the 2-3 hours between their leaving school and your arrival home from work. Here is the simple answer to that dilemma: your children can NEVER be trusted! My kids take great delight, now that they are “seasoned” adults, in telling my wife and me all kinds of stories about things they did years ago that we didn’t know about. Some of these “fond memories” aren’t always camouflaged so well…Like the time I arrived home to find the front door of the house wide open with no one home. As I wondered in (I wandered in, too, but mostly I was wondering), I noticed a white haze on every horizontal surface. It was as if a giant bag of flour had exploded in the house and the contents had rained down and eventually settled atop every surface. Or, come to think of it, it was more like my kids had a disagreement and decided they would settle it by confronting each other with the two fire extinguishers that were in the house. Yeah, that’s what it must have been.
I could go on, but you get the picture. Phase 2 of parenting is fraught with mischief and mayhem. Your attraction to vodka will be stimulated as will your tendency to fret and worry. But, just as there were in Phase 1, there are proud, happy moments and accomplishments achieved in Phase 2. You will collect incredible pieces of art to post on the refrigerator door. You will oversee last-minute construction of a gazillion panorama boxes. You will master the mystery of the Egyptian Pyramids and you will create countless solar systems out of Styrofoam balls…there’s always a solar system project! You will attend Tony-worthy performances in school plays and listen to ear-piercing melodies blown through a flute or strummed on an electric guitar. Yep, these are the good parts. Don’t tell me I didn’t include them in my blog. You must cherish them…and take lots of pictures.
More to come.